THE BRAZILIAN government has appealed a shock decision in a Brazilian federal court to ban the use of the herbicide glyphosate.
A judge has banned the use of any crop protection product containing glyphosate until there are further toxicology tests conducted.
The Brazilian government, together with various bodies from within the nation’s agriculture sector, is appealing the decision, saying it will have massive impacts on crop production.
A full toxicity study for a herbicide product can take in the order of three to four years.
The decision has caught many by surprise, especially as ANVISA, the Brazilian regulatory body that plays a similar role to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) in Australia, currently has a position that glyphosate is safe for use.
It has been reported that ANVISA was not made aware of the finding, which also applies to the the insecticide abamectin and the fungicide thiram, prior to it being made public.
Brazil has a voracious appetite for glyphosate.
It is on track to be the world’s largest producer of soybeans this year with the US Department of Agriculture this month forecasting a crop of 118 million tonnes.
Of that, it is estimated that over 85 per cent of the soybeans planted are genetically modified and feature Monsanto’s Roundup Ready trait, meaning glyphosate can be applied in crop.
Latin America as a whole is now the world’s largest market for glyphosate, meaning the Brazilian decision will have seismic implications for the crop protection sector.
There has been sustained pressure on glyphosate in the past week.
The Brazilian decision was handed down in the same week a US court handed down a landmark $395 million in damages to a Californian groundskeeper who said he contracted cancer following sustained exposure to glyphosate.
The ban is based over concerns regarding glyphosate’s safety to humans, in particular a potential link between the herbicide and the cancer non Hodgkin lymphoma.
Monsanto has come out against the decision.
Monsanto Australia corporate affairs director Carissa Buckland said regulatory bodies across the globe concurred on glyphosate’s safety.
“In evaluations spanning four decades, the overwhelming conclusion of experts worldwide – including ANVISA, national regulatory authorities in the U.S., Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia and other countries, as well as international science and health organizations – has been that glyphosate can be used safely,” Ms Buckland said.
She said glyphosate was critical for Brazilian farmers.
“Glyphosate is a vital tool for Brazilian agriculture. For more than 40 years, Brazilian farmers and other users have depended on glyphosate-based products to help them control weeds.”
Herbicide expert Chris Preston also spoke out in favour of the product.
“If you do away with glyphosate you end up with a situation where the replacement product is more toxic,” Dr Preston said.
“It is a very important and very versatile herbicide, you can use it in between rows in vineyards, you can use it on roadsides, it is broad spectrum and it has no residual.”
“This flexibility means there are a lot of cases where it is the best solution to the problem and if we were to lose the use of it there would be major issues, in terms of the environment and in terms of productivity.”
But not all groups are so supportive of the ongoing use of glyphosate.
Bob Phelps, director of Gene Ethics, a lobby group against genetic modification of food crops, said the Californian case should act as a catalyst for a review of glyphosate use in Australia.
He called for such a review to be conducted by a Senate Inquiry, saying the APVMA was ‘partisan’ in its approach to glyphosate.
"The federal government should immediately reinstate the Farm Chemicals Reassessment and Reregistration Scheme, cancelled in 2014,” Mr Phelps said.